Review by Sean Boelman
Randall Park has had his hand in some of the funniest projects in film in television in the past decade, so his directorial debut, Shortcomings, was quite an exciting prospect. While Park proves that he’s a pretty fantastic comedy director here, the script struggles to balance its edginess with satisfying storytelling.
The movie follows a young theater manager who is forced to confront the implications of race in modern dating when his longtime girlfriend decides to move across the country and wants them to “take a break.” Written by Adrian Tomine from his popular graphic novel, the film purports to be the antithesis to the saccharine, crowd-pleasing forms of representation we have seen in mainstream movies in recent years.
There is an episodic structure to the film lent to it by the source material. It’s nice that Tomine was able to adapt his own work, and therefore ensure that his artistic vision was preserved, but it’s also frustrating because you can literally feel the gaps in the movie that are the start of a new segment.
The film poses some interesting questions about Asian-American identity, but it ends up feeling overstuffed. Again, this is likely a quality that was lost in the translation from page to screen. While these individual themes might have worked well through the panels in a graphic novel, they lack the cohesiveness and flow that is necessary to make a romantic comedy work.
It’s also somewhat surprising that the movie does not have a more pronounced visual style given that it is adapted from a graphic novel. Of course, Tomine’s visual style emphasizes realism, but the film leaves something to be desired by being shot much like the types of studio rom-coms that it directly ridicules. Still, Park does one hell of a job directing his actors, getting performances out of them that fit the bill perfectly.
The thing about Shortcomings that is likely to divide its viewers most is that its characters are rather unlikable. It’s certainly intriguing to watch a romantic comedy where you can’t really root for either of the characters because they’re both very selfish. Obviously, the characters’ arcs are realizing their selfishness and (hopefully) growing out of it, but it does begin to feel frustrating at times.
That being said, there is one character that is infectiously charming: the protagonist’s best friend played hilariously by Sherry Cola. Cola’s comedic timing is absolutely impeccable and consistently gets the biggest laughs in the movie, and she also has the perfect personality to be a wonderful foil to Justin H. Min’s curmudgeonly “hero.”
Shortcomings is often funny, but it is held back from becoming a new rom-com classic due to a script that is too incohesive to be fully immersive. It’s a work of passion for all involved — and it shows — but there’s no denying that it falls short of its full potential.
Shortcomings is playing at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, which runs January 19-29 in-person in Park City, UT and January 24-29 online.